For footballers, as with some boxers, knowing when to let go is one of the biggest challenges they face during their professional careers. Nevertheless, the concept of a player returning to an old club to try and recapture the best moments of their career, is a risky and often highly damaging move.
Once a Manchester City poster boy, Shaun Wright-Phillips has been forced to reflect over recent weeks on the demise of his career in the blue of his childhood club.
In one respect, Wright-Phillips’ situation is far worse than those older pros attempting to conquer past glories. When he left Eastlands originally to join Chelsea, back in 2005, the winger was one of England’s hottest properties. Since then, Wright-Phillips has seen his fortunes nose dive, never scaling the career heights he once threatened.
Having decided to leave Manchester to further his career six years ago, the England midfielder is having to face up to the reality that his boyhood club’s ambitions have exceeded his limitations as a player.
Recruited under previous manager, Mark Hughes, Wright-Phillips was seen as quite a coup when he moved from Stamford Bridge in 2008, however after fleeting displays of the form that catapulted him towards that 25 million pound move to West London, he has struggled to make an impact.
However, Wright-Phillips is just another in a long list of players to have failed to impress having broken the age-old rule of never going back.
It is becoming a trend of Premier League transfer activity over the last few years, and those making the decision are often cursed as a result. Not every player can make the sort of heroic returns to former haunts enjoyed by Jurgen Klinsmann, when he re-joined Tottenham in 1998, or Juninho when he had three separate spells at Middlesbrough, but many returning former heroes have taken the plunge and floundered.
Whilst you would not have been shocked to see Robbie Fowler struggle to recapture his glory days at Liverpool when returning from injury hit spells at Leeds and Manchester City, the recent failures of players such as Robbie Keane, Pascal Chimbonda, Sol Campbell and Pavel Srnicek give further credence to the idea that there should never be an excuse to go back.
Robbie Keane’s return to White Hart Lane is arguably the worst example of this curse. Having had a brief and unsuccessful spell at Liverpool his 12 million pound transfer back to North London must go down as the worst move of the Irishman’s career, and one of Tottenham’s most terrible of transfer decisions. A stuttering two year period has resulted in two separate loan moves, and at the age of 30, Keane’s career at the top level could well be over.
Yet, such an unlikely concept is becoming common. No doubt helped by Tottenham’s erratic transfer policy, the number of players leaving and re-joining clubs is on the rise. Whilst, with one breath, it is easy to condemn moves of this ilk, it is equally easy to understand why another City player, Roque Santa Cruz, has decided to break the golden rule and return to the club where he initially made his name in English football, Blackburn Rovers. Santa Cruz has had an horrendous time in Manchester over the last two years- injuries and a deluge of other attacking options has meant the Paraguayan has barely had a start during his time at City.
Whilst Santa Cruz will feel that an escape from Manchester is the only way to kick start his faltering career, he will need to buck a trend that has crippled many a player with equally noble intentions. His record at Ewood Park since returning? No goals in four games…
Find me on Twitter if you can you think of any more players to have struggled to score on returning to the scene of former glories. Stan Collymore’s trip to that NCP Car Park in the centre of Birmingham doesn’t count, obviously.